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From the Mouths of the Babes: 'Our Teachers Deserve More Respect'

In a recent entry, I wrote about how the teaching profession commands little respect--both as far as a lack of recognition of what it involves ("What? You get so much vacation time!" they say, not realizing that every single other night and weekend I bring home piles of work with me), and also a diminished valuation of the profession itself ("There are better things to do with an Ivy League Degree," they'll say, but then lambast "bad teachers" for all the faults of American students).

To the extent that my own students are aware of this perception, I was troubled insofar as I feared they might adopt certain mentalities about teaching--and by extension, about education itself--from hearing the adults around them belittle the profession. "Miss, why do you want to be here? You could do something so much better," one student said to me a few months ago. I found her question heartbreaking in the defeatist implication that her education wasn't a worthwhile use of anyone's time. I had not thought to ask what my students believed a teacher's role actually was, or whether they questioned the validity of the attitudes they heard articulated about the teaching profession.

It turns out they're pretty thoughtful on the subject. Full disclosure: The two students featured in this little article are mine, and I couldn't be prouder! But I did not know what they were going to say when they wrote this piece, and I thought they raised some compelling points about the expectations of placed on teachers. One particularly interesting point they made was about a perception they see, that public perception of a teacher's role is that he or she should turn a blind eye to students' rudeness, bad behavior, or inattention. According to my student-writers, when kids act up in class, "there doesn't seem to be that much our teachers can do about it without creating more trouble." Then, when the student in question experiences academic failure, the solution is to blame the teacher.

In the countries where both of these students-writers grew up, such behavior would never be tolerated, they explain. A good teacher should be sensitive and warm, and available to listen to students' problems--but also, should exert a firm hand, manage the classroom, and "speak up against students who don't have any interest in learning." In doing so, say the student-writers, a teacher can "provide motivation to students and help them learn to value the education they receive."

Very well said. I've also written about discipline in this blog (much to the consternation of many readers, who felt that by articulating the need for a strong disciplinary system in schools, I was making excuses for my own inability to manage a classroom). I think an important message to take from my students' post is that more "teacher respect" could be achieved if administrations and school systems would empower teachers to impose structure, discipline, and high expectations for conduct within the classroom. Through these measures, more learning could be achieved, and more students would emerge satisfied customers.

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